Professor Receives David C. Lewis Award from AMERSA
Richard Saitz, chair and professor of community health sciences, received the award for his leadership in substance use education, research, clinical care, and policy.
Richard Saitz, chair and professor of community health sciences, has been awarded the 2021 David C. Lewis, MD AMERSA Service Award by the Association for Multidisciplinary Education and Research in Substance Use and Addiction (AMERSA).
The award symbolizes the highest level of service to the association and recognizes an AMERSA member for their outstanding service and dedication to the association’s mission to improve health and well-being through interdisciplinary leadership in substance use education, research, clinical care, and policy. Saitz will accept the award at the 45th Annual AMERSA Conference from November 3-5.
AMERSA is a multidisciplinary organization for healthcare professionals working in education, research, and clinical care. A member since 1992, Saitz considers AMERSA to be his home organization, where he previously served as both president and vice president, and is a former board member and program chair.
“Each year, I have had a role in this organization,” he says. “It is really special to have that recognized through this award because I really enjoy working with AMERSA. It is a small organization, but they are doing important work and are making a big impact in this field.”
Saitz also says that receiving the award is particularly meaningful to him because he is able to follow in the footsteps of David C. Lewis, the founder of AMERSA who passed away late last year. Lewis was a pioneer in the field of addiction medicine, advocating for compassionate, evidence-based treatment for those with substance use disorders.
Saitz joined the School of Public Health in 2013, and is also a general internist, primary care physician, and professor of medicine in the School of Medicine. During his medical training in internal medicine, Saitz says he was often treating patients with health conditions caused or exacerbated by substance use, especially tobacco and alcohol, but was failing to look at the full spectrum of unhealthy substance use and its effects on the patients’ lives, jobs, and families.
“We were treating specific diseases in the moment but not making it so the person wouldn’t come back with the same issues next week,” he says. “I wanted to start working on addressing the root of the problem that was ultimately being ignored.”
At SPH, much of Saitz’s work centers around integrating prevention and treatment of substance use and addiction into general healthcare settings and ensuring that the approaches to address these health issues are based in high-quality evidence. The driving mission behind his research is to treat substance use as a risk factor for disease and addiction as a chronic medical condition.
“For so long, these issues have been looked at as behaviors that are voluntary and that are moralized about,” he says. “People with addiction deserve better.”
Throughout his nearly 30-year career in the addiction medicine field, Saitz says that what motivates him to continue to do this work is the fact that there is still so much to be done to solve this problem. He also attributes some of his motivation to “a healthy bit of anger.”
“About 90 percent of people with substance use disorders don’t get any treatment at all, and nobody seems to be terribly upset about that,” he says. “It’s upsetting to me that the people who deserve a break and proper support the most are really getting the opposite, so I hope my work can help to change this. We can do better.”